5 ways to navigate church conflict. It's more predictable than the weather.
Most things in life are basically unpredictable. Like the weather. Even with all the storm central drama, Doppler radar, and meteorological innovations forecasting the weather is a God thing. Humans don't have a crystal ball and cannot predict what is going to happen with absolute certainty. So, we joke about them and make their processes the objects of our weather jokes. And, of course, this is usually offered with a good bit of tongue-in-cheek hyperbole. In the final analysis we are grateful for the long hours of study that all the weather professionals dedicate to helping us deal with the fickle dynamics of weather.
Some things are more predictable, and human conflict is one of them. Sure, people get in a mess over just about any issue, trivial or large, and take unique directions in achieving their goals when someone crosses their path. The particulars of our clashes can be very specific, as different as the personalities that drive them. But, study indicates that most conflict follows a typical pattern if not settled quickly and definitively. I have always been grateful for the research people at LifeWay Research, the Pew Research Center, the Francis Schaeffer Institute, and others who have done the statistical study that enables us to follow the path of conflict and alter it when possible. As I mentioned earlier, I have been most impressed with the data compiled by Peacemakers Ministries and the teaching materials they have produced to help churches, families, and others deal with tragic realities of personal and corporate conflict. Their entire system is church friendly and communicates the truth of Scripture more effectively than any other I studied when serving as Director of Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
The central teaching piece is the visual depicting the Slippery Slope of Church Conflict. It is a semi-circle demonstrating three predictable elements of conflict: the middle section involves six peacemaking responses to conflict, the far right down the slope are three attack responses and the far left of the diagram are the three predominate escape responses. Each of the ways humans typically deal with conflict are then referenced to Scripture. The two extremes, attack and escape, provide biblical guidance in the old flight/fight dichotomy that most of us learned in Psychology 101. This resource have been very helpful in teaching the dynamics of conflict, regardless of the venue. I recommend it for several reasons---
(1) Most of us are not psychologists. This particular handout is written in layman's language that just about anyone can understand and implement in every area of life. While based on great, long- established research, it isn't psycho-babble of statis-speak. The conclusions are easy to follow.
(2) The Peacemakers Ministries guides are thoroughly biblical. They have taken all the Scriptural references and placed them in chronological order to assist laymen in applying Bible truth to common areas of conflict. One of the elements that is particularly attractive is the way they have over-laid the various texts is an order that not only makes sense, but clarifies some of the exceptions in administrating church discipline, dealing with disruptive people, and seeking correct outcomes when utilizing their conflict resolution guidelines.
(3) The Slippery Slope is a visual, and effective graphic depictions of biblical truth typically communicate their findings and recommendations in clear ways.
(4) Children's and youth applications of the material is available. This provides a useful medium for consistent teaching of the biblical material to every member of the family and church. How blessed to be able to teach this same conflict resolution plan to the entire church. WOW!
(5) There is a need for this kind of across-the-board conflict resolution teaching throughout our denomoination and in the Christian church as a whole. When I served at the State Convention level I was surprised at the various systems used by denominational leaders and staff, state convention representatives, associational missions personnel, and in local churches. In fact, there was usually no consistent teaching plan being used in most venues. One leader told me that he wouldn't endorse a conflict resolution program because it was an admission that there was conflict in our churches and denominational affiliates the he just didn't want to announce. Talk about denial!
Jesus knew his followers would deal with opposition, persecution, hardship, and difficulty. In leading the twelve he had to address their personal ambitions, likes and dislikes, and other individual attributes that pitted them against each other on occasion. His teaching is laced with references about their internal relationships and how they would handle rejection to the message. In one clear teaching he told them that the defining mark of following him would be the way they loved each other. Evidently he knew that they would face some inside-the-family differences as they moved among the diverse populations of their day.
At another level, the Book of Acts and all of the Epistles are a record of this miraculous church touching lives across the globe in spite of the human equation that promised so much potential fire. At that time there were no statistical studies to provide solutions for the predictable seasons of personal or church conflict. But, guided as they were by the Holy Spirit, the were able to author God's plan for resolving human differences, regardless of the cause or the situation.
The human drama plays out everywhere and just about all the time. Yes, much data has been gathered about the causes of conflict and the ways to resolve it, even biblically. Just as clearly, there are steps that we should take as we enter the holy ground of confession, forgiveness, speaking the truth in love, bearing one another's burdens, greeting each other, and dealing with the foibles that make us so unique. At the start, we must know Scripture and teach it consistently, decide if our injuries are of such nature to warrant confrontation and official application of biblical principles, know at the deepest place that most conflict will not resolve itself, and today, understand that human conflict is inevitable and follows a very predictable path.
Last week we were blessed to have our grandchildren for an entire week. Ages 8 and nearly four, they are our joy and delight. On occasion we had to discipline them. Sometimes we'd discuss whether or not we needed to mention something, or just overlook it. Then, there were times we had to take some steps and give them correction. Every single time, after they had the chance to cool down and recover, they would always come to us and say, "Mimi (or Ganga), I love you".
Loving one another is the motivating factor of conflict resolution. Restoration is the result we pray for. That is, resoration God's way!